Cat napping is something that frustrates many mums. A catnap is a short nap, anything from 20-40 minutes. For babies, under 3-4 months of age, a cat nap can be a normal phenomenon. Until they are 4 months old babies do not secrete melatonin, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for getting babies to sleep and keeping them asleep.


Napping and memory

Short bursts of sleep or day naps are actually really useful because napping improves memory. Trials with 216 babies up to 12 months old indicated they were unable to remember new tasks if they did not have a lengthy sleep soon afterwards.

The University of Sheffield team suggested the best time to learn may be just before sleep and emphasised the importance of reading at bedtime. The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed “sleeping like a baby” was vital for learning.

Dr Jane Herbert, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, said, “Those who sleep after learning, learn well, those not sleeping don’t learn at all.” She said it had been assumed that “wide-awake was best” for learning, but instead it “may be the events just before sleep that are most important”.

These findings show ‘just how valuable’ reading books with children before sleep could be.


Napping and learning

Napping helps with learning! In an American study, researchers discovered a nap appeared to help 3 to 5-year-olds better remember pre-school lessons.

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers studied 40 youngsters and reported their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The benefit persisted in the afternoon after a nap and the next day.

The study authors say their results suggest naps are critical for memory consolidation and early learning. The researchers hadn’t kept track of overnight sleep, but it was apparent that even if a child caught up a bit at night, that didn’t provide a memory boost. “This is really saying, they need that sleep close to learning” for it to take root.


Napping and brain function

 Napping also heightens brain function during the day. Taking a nap also helps to clear information out of your brain’s temporary storage areas, getting it ready for new information to be absorbed. A study from the University of California asked participants to complete a challenging task around midday, which required them to take in a lot of new information. At around 2 pm, half of the volunteers took a nap while the rest stayed awake.

The really interesting part of this study is (at 6 pm that night) the napping group performed better than those who didn’t take a nap. In fact, the napping group actually performed better than they had earlier in the morning. Very young children take naps because so-called sleep pressure builds rapidly in their brains — that is, the need for sleep accumulates so quickly during waking hours that a nap becomes a biological necessity. It is not just a question of how much total sleep children need in 24 hours. Possibly because of the intense synaptic activity going on in their highly active, highly connected brains, young children are less able to tolerate long periods of time awake.


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